Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher: Wikis


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Vilyam (Willie) Genrikhovich (August) Fisher (Вильям Генрихович Фишер) (July 11, 1903–November 15, 1971) was a noted Soviet intelligence officer. He is generally better known by the alias Rudolf Abel, which he adopted on his arrest. His last name is sometimes given as Fischer; his patronymic is sometimes less exactly transliterated as Genrikovich.


Early life

He was born in England at 142 Clara Street, Benwell, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1903. His parents, ethnic Germans from Russia, had been active in the revolutionary movement in Russia, and had fled to England in 1901. His father, Genrikh (Heinrich),[1] was a keen Bolshevik who took part in clandestine operations shipping arms and literature from the North East coast. He published a book V Rossii i v Anglii ("In Russia and in England") in 1922 detailing his life in Newcastle.

Willie grew up in Whitley Bay where the family moved and attended the Whitley Bay and Monkseaton Grammar school (Now Whitley Bay High School). The family lived at several addresses, mostly in Lish Avenue. Their last residence was at No. 18. Willlie became an apprentice draughtsman at Swan Hunter Wallsend, in 1918, but attended evening classes at Rutherford College and matriculated for London University in 1920. The Fisher family left Whitley Bay, however, for the newly-established Soviet Union in 1921, where Genrikh died in 1935.

Early career

After the family's return to the Soviet Union in 1921 Fisher worked as a translator for Comintern. During his military service in 1925-1926 he was trained as a radio operator. He worked briefly in Soviet Military Intelligence and was then recruited by the OGPU, a predecessor of the KGB in 1927. He worked for them as a radio operator in Norway, Turkey, Britain, and France then returned to Russia in 1936 as head of a school which trained radio operators destined for duty in illegal residences.

He narrowly escaped the Great Purges. Besides being from England, a close relative had been accused of being a Trotskyite. He escaped prosecution but was dismissed from the NKVD in 1938. During the Second World War he again trained radio operators for clandestine work behind German lines.

In the secret service

In 1946 he again entered secret service and was trained as a spy for entry into the United States. He traveled to Canada under a false identity, then entered the United States on November 17, 1947. He adopted the name of Emil Robert Goldfus (the real Goldfus had died at the age of 14 months). The Soviets had constructed an elaborate legend for Goldfus, a fictitious biography of his life from 1902 to 1947.

As cover for his illegal residence, he opened an artist's studio in the Orvington Studios in Brooklyn, although he had only minimal artistic talent. He represented himself as a retired photofinisher to the other artists with whom he came into contact. He made friends with a small group of younger men, mostly artists who shared his preferences for realistic art. He made no attempt to sell paintings, but continued working on his technique. His friends found him intelligent and knowledgeable, but somewhat secretive; for example, he never disclosed where he lived. He expressed admiration for the Russian artist Isaak Levitan.

His job as resident was to recruit and supervise agents who gathered intelligence information. He was given control of a pre-existing group of agents which included Lona Cohen and Morris Cohen, who are believed to have been the couriers for the Rosenberg, Greenglass, Fuchs nuclear spy ring, and who later operated in Britain as Peter and Helen Kroger.

Fisher is not known to ever have had any contact with the Communist Party USA. As a part of his legend, he sometimes fabricated stories about earlier days as a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest during the time of the Wobblies.

Capture and later

Soviet intelligence officer Rudolf Abel on the 1990 USSR commemorative stamp

Fisher was captured by the FBI in New York on June 21, 1957, partially as the result of the defection of his assistant Reino Häyhänen, in what became known as the Hollow Nickel Case (referring to Fisher's transporting of microfilm inside a hollow nickel). He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for espionage.[2][3][4]

When Fisher was arrested, the hotel room and photo studio that he lived in contained multiple modern espionage equipment items: cameras and film for producing microdots, cipher pads, cuff links, hollow shaving brush, shortwave radios, and numerous "trick" containers.[2]

Fisher was brought to trial in New York City Federal Court, indicted as a Russian spy, in October, 1957, on three counts:[2]

  • Conspiracy to transmit defense information to the Soviet Union (count one)
  • Conspiracy to obtain defense information (count two)
  • Conspiracy to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without notification to the Secretary of State (count three)

Häyhänen testified against Fisher at the trial.[2]

On October 25, 1957, the jury found Fisher guilty on all three counts. Judge Mortimer W. Byers sentenced him, sentences to be served concurrently, on November 15, 1957, count one: 30 years' imprisonment; count two: 10 years' imprisonment and $2,000 fine; count three: 5 years' imprisonment and $1,000 fine.[2]

On February 10, 1962, he was exchanged for Central Intelligence Agency U-2 pilot Gary Powers and an American student Frederic Pryor, at the Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam, Germany. After his return to Moscow he continued to work as a trainer for the KGB and was rewarded with the Order of Lenin.

Rudolf Abel was the alias Fisher adopted on his arrest which signaled his capture to the Soviet Government. The alias was the name of another, less well known NKVD agent, who had once shared a flat with Fisher. The real Abel was born in Latvia in 1900 and died in 1955, but not much seems to be publicly known about his career.

Willie Fisher died of lung cancer in 1971 and was buried next to his father in the Donskoy monastery in Moscow. His daughter reported that his last words would have been in English: "Don't forget that we are Germans anyway." His gravestone displays both of his names. A group of KGB veterans celebrated his centenary at the graveside in 2003.

See also


  1. ^ The German name Heinrich is usually rendered as Генрих, phonetically ‘Genrikh,’ in Russian.
  2. ^ a b c d e Famous Cases: Rudolph Ivanovich Abel (Hollow Nickel Case). - FBI. - Retrieved: 2008-07-01
  3. ^ "Artist in Brooklyn". - TIME. - August 19, 1957. - Retrieved: 2008-07-03
  4. ^ "Pudgy Finger Points". - TIME. - October 28, 1957. - Retrieved: 2008-07-03

Further reading

  • Arthey, Vin, (2005). - Like Father Like Son, A Dynasty of Spies. - St. Ermin's Press, Trafalgar Square. - ISBN 1-903608-07-4.
This is the current definitive reference on Vilyam Fisher. The book shows that from 1930 to 1960, Fisher was connected to virtually everything: Alexander Orlov, Cambridge Five, Rosenberg Ring, Volunteer Group, Perseus. (Laes)
  • Bernikow, Louise, (1970). - Abel. - Hodder and Stoughton. - ISBN 0-340-12593-4
(1982; - Ballantine Books. - ISBN 0-345-30212-5)
  • Donovan, James B., (1964). - Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel. - New York: Atheneum. - 711124
  • Sudoplatov, Pavel, and; Anatoli Sudoplatov, Jerrold L. Schecter, Leona Schecter, (1994). - Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness, a Soviet Spymaster. - Little Brown. - ISBN 0-316-77352-2
(1995; - Lightning Source. - ISBN 0-316-82115-2)
  • West, Nigel, (1990). - Games of Intelligence: The Classified Conflict of International Espionage.. - New York: Crown Publishers. - ISBN 0-517-57811-5

External links

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